What is the name of the hotel? he asked me. I told him the name of the
hotel. He didn't recognize it, and I told him the name of the hotel two
more times. I told him the address of the hotel. I told him it was in
Westwood, in LA. He didn't know Westwood. I didn't know Westwood
either. He called the dispatcher and got directions. He got impatient
with the dispatcher while the dispatcher was giving him directions. If
they were too specific, he would look dumb, like he didn't know
Westwood. And I was blonde. I guess its a bad idea to look dumb in front
of a blonde woman if you are an LA cabbie.
I watched the meter tick off in twenty-cent intervals. Twenty cents
for one ninth of a mile. That's what the fare was. He told me he was
taking a longer route to save time. All the other freeways would be
backed up, but not this special route he knew. I guess none of the other
LA drivers know about this special route. I wondered why. I didn't ask.
It must have been the distance-based fare. He was chipping away at his
tip. Twenty cents for one ninth of a mile.
I tried to read my book. I was behind in my English reading.
Everyone else's Frodo had already left Rivendell, but my Frodo was still
thinking it over. The sun was setting and the pages were turning red.
Look, he kept telling me, look how little traffic there is. It would be
much worse if we had gone the other way. Twenty cents for one ninth of a
mile. I heard him the first time, but he kept reminding me. Frodo was
still in Rivendell, and the cabbie kept interrupting him. Too late. The
sun was down, and I put the book into my backpack. I made sure to buckle
both of the buckles on my backpack, so none of my stuff would fall out
into the cab and get left there when I left the cab. There was a sign on
the window saying that the cab company was not responsible for any
articles that got left in the cab.
We arrived in Westwood. I could tell it was Westwood because of all
the signs around town saying Westwood Drug Store or Westwood Grocery Store
or other things like that. The cabbie moved into the left lane to make a
left turn. Can you read that street sign? he asked me. No, I said,
because I couldn't read it. He strained until he could make it out.
Then he swore. I don't want to turn here! he said. Why are they always
making those signs so far away that no one can read them? I told him I
didn't know. He made the turn anyway, even though it was a wrong turn.
Then he made some other turns and got back on the right street again. He
took the next left which was also a wrong turn. You don't look very
happy, he said to me. Of course I am not happy, I thought, you're lost.
You're not supposed to get lost, and you shouldn't be charging me for
this. Oh, I'm just tired, I said. It was not really a lie. I really was
What's your name? he asked me. I told him my first name. That's a
pretty name, he replied. I didn't thank him for the compliment but told
him my parents thought so too. He turned around at looked at me,
He took some correct turns and got me to the hotel. He took a whole
dollar off of the fare on account of being lost. He asked me if I had any
friends in LA. No, I said, but I have friends in San Francisco. I guess
that wasn't close enough to LA. He gave me his phone number and said he
would be my first friend if I moved to LA. I took the phone number, even
though I won't ever call it. I like San Francisco better than LA
anyway. It is easier to be a blonde woman in San Francisco.
He told me he would walk back through hell to get my hat if I forgot
it. It was an easy hell to risk because my jacket had a hood. I met him
for dinner, same place as always.
The waiter brought menus, water, and a briefly raised eyebrow. I
felt him look at my necklace, and I wanted to tell him it was my
grandmother's. The waiter left the menus and the water, and then he left
I followed him with my eyes across the dining room. Table for
two. For two teenage kids. He had just gotten a driver's license and was
taking pains to hold the silverware properly. His baseball hair was
leading a revolt against the gel and good manners. She grasped her fork
in her left fist and giggled mooneyed at his jokes. Fifteen. Don't
forget your coat, I wanted to tell her, don't forget your coat. He looked
up from his silverware and grinned at her.
The ice in my glass shifted. I unfolded my napkin. Little
fork. Big fork. Knife. Spoon. The napkin and the tablecloth were
white. The silverware was sterling. The restaurant lights were
down. The candlelight was orange and the lights from the cars on the
bridge were red. I mixed them together in my glass and drank them.
The kids were eating dessert from the same plate. They alternated
turns. First he would take a bite, then her, then him, then her
again. She was eating a little faster and caught up with him. Their
forks clashed together and they finished the dessert.
I reached out and passed my fingertips through the top of the
candle flame. I caught the melted wax running down the side of the candle
with my left index finger. He reached over and turned my knife so the
serrated edge faced the salad plate. I got up and left the restaurant.